Felony larceny is a felony theft crime that can result in more severe penalties than petty theft or misdemeanor larceny. While the definition of the crime of larceny may vary among the states, most define larceny as unlawfully taking and carrying away another person’s property while intending to deprive the person of the property’s use permanently. Another common name for felony larceny is grand theft.
While larceny is generally considered a misdemeanor offense, certain factors can raise the level of theft to felony status in many states. The main factor that makes larceny a felony, as opposed to a misdemeanor, is the value of the property taken.
In many states, that amount that divides grand larceny from petty larceny ranges from $1,000 to $5,000. If we suppose that the dividing line is the amount of $3,000, then a perpetrator who steals property worth $2,999 is guilty of petty larceny, and the perpetrator who takes property worth $3,000 is guilty of grand larceny.
This means that in cases of grand larceny. Determining the value of the stolen property is a key issue. A prosecutor must be able to prove that the value of the property taken is greater than the grand theft minimum. If the prosecutor should be unable to prove this fact, the perpetrator could not be convicted of grand larceny.
Value can be proven in a variety of ways. One way is to prove its fair market value. Another is to prove its highest reasonable value. And yet another way is to prove its retail value.
In some theft offenses, multiple people work together to steal property, or a single person steals multiple items as part of the same theft. In some states, all the items are stolen from one owner, one location, or as part of one criminal event as a group of items. The value of the items is added up to determine if the theft qualifies as grand theft. The value of several items cannot be grouped together if they were taken from different victims or if there was no underlying unified plan to steal them.
In some states, the type of property stolen can also elevate a larceny from a misdemeanor to a felony, even if the value of the property does not justify it. Generally, the theft of motor vehicles, firearms, drugs, and, in some states, credit cards elevates the theft to a felony.
For example, say the perpetrator goes to a restaurant and steals another person’s purse. The purse contains cash, a mobile phone, and other contents totaling $1,500. The state sets $1,000 as the minimum value of a property that qualifies the crime as a felony larceny. In this case, the perpetrator would be charged with a felony crime.
What Are Degrees of Grand Theft?
Larceny can also qualify as grand larceny if a specific type of property is stolen, even if that property does not have the value in the minimum amount required for the crime. The items of stolen property that qualify theft as a felony are motor vehicles, firearms, credit cards, and drugs.
In many states, there are levels of grand larceny. The levels indicate the severity of the charge. Generally, the levels correspond to the value of the property that is taken.
For example, in the state of New York, the degrees of grand larceny are as follows:
- Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree: This is larceny that involves property valued at more than $1,000 but not more than $3,000;
- Grand Larceny in the Third Degree: This is larceny that involves property valued at more than $3,000 but no more than $50,000;
- Grand Larceny in the Second Degree: This is larceny that involves property valued at more than $50,000 but not more than $1,000,000;
- Grand Larceny in the First Degree: This is larceny that involves property valued at more than $1,000,000.
Of course, the higher the degree, the more severe the possible sentence is. Other states have similar levels of larceny that depend on the value of the property stolen.
What Happens After a Person is Arrested for Felony Larceny?
Extending the scenario above with the purse theft, suppose the offender steals the property from a booth while the owner of the purse is in the restroom. The offender is able to leave the establishment without getting caught. However, surveillance cameras clearly view the person’s face, and the police identify the person from their criminal history.
The police would then arrest the perpetrator, take them into custody and file formal charges. Depending on the state, the person may be released from custody if they post bail. Or, they might have to attend a bail hearing. At a bail hearing, a person is either released without having to post bail. Or, they are released on bail if they can afford the bail amount required by the judge. If they cannot make bail or the judge denies it, they must wait in jail for their trial.
Arraignment is a person’s first court appearance after being charged with a crime. At the arraignment, the judge reads the charge or charges and takes the accused’s plea. The accused can inform the judge that they wish to be represented by an attorney and cannot afford one if they cannot. Then the judge would appoint an attorney to represent the person.
If the case does go to trial and the defendant is found guilty of felony larceny, there is a sentencing hearing at which the judge imposes the punishment. Or in many cases, the defendant enters into a plea agreement with the prosecution.
What Are the Potential Penalties for Felony Larceny?
A misdemeanor larceny conviction generally results in less severe penalties, such as a small fine or a minimal jail sentence, usually less than a year. This again depends on the state’s law and the value of the property stolen.
However, felony charges for larceny generally result in harsher punishment. This can include a prison sentence of more than one year and higher fines. The level of penalty for felony larceny is going to be proportional to the value of the property. Courts also often look to the past criminal history of the perpetrator and other aggravating circumstances surrounding the crime.
In a state that classifies felony larceny by levels, the penalty corresponds to the level of the crime.
Are There Any Defenses to a Felony Larceny Charge?
Certain defenses are available to help limit or even defeat a charge of felony larceny. These include the following:
- Mistaken Identity: The person charged claims they did not commit the crime and that they have been misidentified as the perpetrator;
- Lack of Larcenous Intent: The perpetrator claims that they did not intend to take the property and deprive the owner of it, but rather they took it by mistake, perhaps thinking it was their own;
- Lack of Evidence. A perpetrator can always argue that the prosecution has not met its burden of proof and has not offered evidence to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the perpetrator committed the crime. For example, in the purse scenario above, if there were no security cameras or witnesses, the prosecution would have a hard time proving that the defendant actually committed the crime;
- Value of Property Stolen: In some cases, the perpetrator may challenge the prosecution’s valuation of the property if it can make a difference between petty and grand larceny or between levels of larceny.
If applicable, these defenses can help a defendant be found not guilty or limit the punishment through a plea deal.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Criminal Charges of Felony Larceny?
Felony larceny is a very serious offense, and a person does not want to mount a defense against a charge alone. If you have been charged with felony larceny, consult an experienced local criminal defense lawyer.
A criminal defense attorney can represent you in court, analyze the facts of the case and negotiate a favorable plea agreement if that should be the best outcome in your situation.